Jerome Gilgan grew up in a home with an abusive, alcoholic mother, two sisters, and no father figure. The resulting feelings of loneliness and lack of belonging created by this upbringing led him to violence—punching holes in walls and getting kicked out of school for fighting and failing his classes. The school allowed him to graduate 8th grade simply to get rid of him, but he was kicked out of high school after only eight months.
Jerome began using alcohol to feel numb after his cousin and close friend Michael died in his arms. Two years later, Jerome progressed to using and selling marijuana and was first arrested at the age of 14. Following a second arrest at age 15, his mother kicked him out of his house, forcing him to break into people’s homes to find meals.
At the age of 18, Jerome moved from New Jersey to Portland to escape the police. This is when the methamphetamine use began. For 21 years, Jerome shot meth, spending seven years in prison and three years in jail for selling drugs. He made his way through four drug treatment programs, but none made a difference. It was not until Jerome was referred to the Men’s Residential Center (MRC) that things began to change.
“This is a whole different kind of program,” Jerome explains. “It’s more than just taking classes; it’s about learning how to see life and myself from a whole new perspective. I learned how to communicate and went into schools to talk to students about the dangers of drugs. I discovered that my life was starting to have a positive effect on others.”
In 2003, Jerome graduated from the MRC and has been clean ever since. Two years later he was offered a job as a residential counselor at the MRC. He accepted the position, saying he wanted to give back to the place that gave him a new shot at life. In 2007, he graduated from Portland Community College with all A’s and B’s and became a certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor at the MRC. He is now the residential treatment supervisor and obtaining his master’s degree in social work at Portland State University. Jerome is the first person in recovery to have a leadership position at the MRC.
“I’m alive today because of Greg Stone (MRC’s program director), and the MRC program,” Jerome stressed. “My loyalty to the program is unshakable. All I want is to be part of it, to be able to save somebody else, and give the same hope to others.”